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Beyond the Classroom: College-Bound Senior’s Everest Trek Teaches Lessons in Resilience

Briana Gallo
Photo Credited to: Briana Gallo

By Lexi Gallo, a senior at La Jolla Country Day School

A glimpse into a college essay with a bit of a twist. My name is Briana Gallo. I own and run Driftwood Adventure Treks. I am also a mom of a senior in high school. My daughter came up to me a year ago, at the beginning of her junior year, and asked me if she could join one of my trips to Everest Base Camp. At first, I was worried about school work and college testing, but then I realized this would be the best opportunity for my daughter to have this experience. She decided to use this experience as her college essay. It’s authentic and thoughtful while focusing on a deeper meaning. It grabs the reader from the beginning and it shows perseverance. See for yourself. 

Our goal: the teahouse 3000 vertical feet and 10 miles ahead. The hike begins with conversation and fresh legs. My mother is a professional photographer, and I traveled with her to Everest Base Camp in April, 2023. I expected the breathing difficulties, the gear, and the weather. But I didn’t expect my physical limitations. I was so naive.

Despite months of training, I ended up with altitude sickness and UV poisoning. Each day at the five mile mark, my joy turned into a slog. The cold was piercing, and temperatures rose just enough to turn the crunchy layer of permafrost into a slushy mix that made each step riskier. Because of my ailments, the team stopped in Dragnag for three days. There, I’d step outside in just socks and underlayers, enjoying the warmth from the sun and the release from boots and equipment. The delay was essential, but I felt guilty about holding back the team. I was relieved when I woke up on that fourth day, ready to attempt the Cholo Pass. But if I’d realized what was coming next, I might have delayed a bit longer. That was the day when UV poisoning caused my lips to bleed and split, my cheeks to redden, and my nose to swell and peel. Cholo Pass is beautiful in the sunshine, but that warmth is deceptive. Earlier all I had wanted was a bit of sunshine. By midday, all I wanted was a blizzard. Instead of enjoying the sky’s hue, I wished for clouds to hug the sun for a few hours. A slight tingling in my hands and face turned into severe hot flashes about four hours later, and I became frantic. I couldn’t be the reason we stopped again, I thought, and used clumps of snow to ease the pain. I knew I was making my skin more inflamed but was too desperate to care. The trek over the last plateau was more complex as we wound our way through dirt divots; but for me, this final and tricky portion was a relief because the lack of snow lessened the sun’s glare.  

Briana Gallo

Photo Credited to: Briana Gallo

In Nepal I remained focused and driven–out of desperation, in part, but also because walking through mountainous territory with peaks soaring around me made me feel small and provided perspective. I hiked in long hours of silence; walking through the mountainous territory was the fulfillment of a dream that I couldn’t believe was happening. I could have spent that time reflecting on my life, but in the midst of the daily struggle I rarely considered anything more profound than my next step. It wasn’t until the evenings that I even thought about the enormity of what I’d accomplished, so far. My daily life in San Diego seemed inconsequential in those moments; the nagging self doubts that sometimes plagued me in social situations at home had disappeared. It was impossible to care about prom dresses and song preferences when I’d hiked at 17,500 feet above sea level, through UV poisoning and altitude sickness. All I felt was a blur of pride and disbelief.

That teahouse had seemed an impossible distance at first. There were moments where all I could think about was the luxury of sitting down and drinking something warm. It was unquestionably the trip of a lifetime for me: the mountains, the people, the friends I made. Everything at home just seemed easier, once I’d completed the trek. I felt invincible.

This trip tested my skills, my retention, and my dedication to academics. In the months before the trip I made plans with my teachers, prepared assignments in advance, and exercised with a 40 lb pack on my back. I did everything I could to prepare for my departure, the experience, and my return. But I was gone longer than expected; our airport in Lukla was snowed in for a full week. When I got back to San Diego it was hard to re-engage, and even harder to spend so much of my day speaking to others or sitting still in a classroom. I have been asked many times, “How did you do it? How did you adjust back into your daily schedule?” 

This is my answer. On the hardest day of the trip, I narrowed my focus to one step at a time. One breath at a time. I used that same tactic when I came home from Nepal–  nearly a week behind on my work despite all of my pre-trip efforts. One quiz at a time. One test at a time. Each class. Every day. And it worked. One day at a time. This is a mantra I will carry with me always. 

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